The Realness

In 2003, one Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson was propelled to stardom on the back of a Dr Dre burner and a resume focused on his realness. This is not to say that 50 Cent got there just because he had been shot (he had created a substantial buzz around his prior mixtapes), but 50’s story gave an air of realism, honesty and of course credibility. 50’s story can be described as the equivalent of the, “based on a True Story” disclaimer in cinema.

Undoubtedly this disclaimer is included to have an impact on proceedings. It is a small phrase but it is one that either prior or subsequent to a film provides a point of comparison for the seemingly fantastical. “That’s real!?!? Wow!”. Rap music, being borne from movements in pockets of metropolises worldwide in its infancy often provokes a shocking, “can this be true” reaction from the general populace. When Dizzee Rascal was stabbed in 2003 for example, his mythos was elevated due to the legitimacy his attempted murder provided to his music.

This attitude, for a long period of time, had been demanded of rap artists. Popular mantras such as “keep it real”, inspired generations. However, Hip-Hop itself is in middle age and with age has come a cynicism. The culture has changed. Clearly, it didn’t take long for many people to realise that rap artists (well those of them with some nous) were not Mafioso types or cold hearted killers. Rap music has wrestled long and hard with this identity crisis. When artists were being real they got into trouble with the law and were berated by the community and when they exaggerated their experiences or were entirely fake the same thing occurred.

Since 50 Cent released The Massacre his popularity began to wane. The public seemingly bored of his balance of gritty reality rap and radio singles. 50 Cent, towards the end of the noughties decided to return to his old, pre-in da club approach to garnering a buzz – fake/engineered beefs. The first of these was a billboard battle with Kanye West, which was actually quite successful despite his loss. The second drive proved fatal for 50’s popularity (not for his pockets). 50 Cent being 50 Cent was never averse to beef even during the height of his successes and notoriously did everything within his power to shit on Ja Rule and whoever associated with him. Rick Ross, being an upcoming rapper at the time collaborated with 50’s rivals.

This prompted a beef which could arguably shape the way in which rap music and the media at large relate to other art forms. Rick Ross is the namesake of one Freeway Rick Ross, a former big time drug dealer. Rick Ross sparked his career on this premise overtly suggesting that he had been a big time kingpin. On his breakout single Ross rapped, “I know Pablo, Noriega, the real Noriega, he owe me a hunnid favours”, Noriega being another drug kingpin. People, though sceptical, had no reason to doubt Rick Ross’ spectacular claims until….he debunked that claim himself .

Having been privy to that chink in his armour 50 Cent exposed Rick Ross as a former Corrections Officer (among other really, REALLY heinous things). This link to the law and Rick Ross’ consistent denial for months on end would have buried your average rapper in the mid noughties and prior. Instead, a phenomenon occurred. Rap fans and the commercial public alike decided that Ross’ music was good enough to ignore Ross’ history and 50 Cent’s annihilation of his character. The public exercised self-denial with the ‘bawse’.

For years and years rappers had excused themselves of responsibilities as role models by describing themselves as social commentators/reporters. In lieu of Ross’ successes and apparent serial delusions, has rap become accepted truly as an art form. And by art form I suggest that rap music has awkwardly become accepted as an art form conceptually in the same way that a film is – in a, “oh there’s Jason shoving an ice pick through the funny bone of a teenage girl, hiiiilarious”, kind of way. Ross’ work is almost treated now like a piece of high concept work, “doesn’t he play the decadent drug pusher well! It’s most enjoyable!”.

I admit that I am prey to this attitude. Why? Because I do not and did not believe in an intrinsic need for “role models”. Art, whether pitched as fiction or as non-fiction is a reflection of our society first and foremost. This distinction does not wholly accept Ross though. Someone clearly providing a concept has that distinction as a blanket whereas Ross is clearly a fraud which is what may have rubbed Andreas Hale  the wrong way. Lying and by extension, behaving fraudulently should not be celebrated (the reason being that if these were promoted social principles all nations would resemble a certain western nation that I am from…).

In principle I concur with Hale’s argument, there’s a disconnect that is tough to shake when Ross raps. Even conceptual work relies on some honesty, perhaps. Personally, I think I still listen to and enjoy Ross’ fraudulent tales as – despite the fact he has re-jigged his own history into believing his tails – he still makes good, if ploddingly similar, music. Perhaps this discussion boils down to how people consume music and whether, ultimately there is a right way to do so; do we listen to music to hear superior craft? For a personal connection? Or a mixture of both?

My issue is that in attempting to forge a distinction between conceptual art and dishonesty we end playing a game of semantics that ignores the music itself. Music is something which I personally am drawn to largely in spite of subject matter. Generally speaking I expect almost all music to strike some vague chord with me simply due to the shared experience we, as people have. People all listen to music for different reasons, however, censure, with almost all media is a dangerous path to opt for. Overall, I believe this shift is a positive as it forces western society to solve issues that prompt, “ghetto reporting” from the ground up instead of attempting to place a lid on matters out of fear. From understanding we can hopefully advance to a place where people can separate entertainment and reality.